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Published:  June 15, 2020

By:  Willie Barney, Co-Publisher Revive Omaha

Beyond the Flames:  Why I Believe 2020 is a Turning Point

Where Do We Go From Here?  Transformation 2025

Part II:  Moving to Solutions

Omaha might not be in flames now, but we have a playbook.  George Fraser has called Omaha the Montgomery of the economic rights movement.  Pastor Freddie Haynes calls it the Selma of the next great movement.  They and others believe there are answers in Omaha.

On a personal level, after years of reading, researching and studying solutions, we embarked nearly fifteen years ago on a journey to move the dial and change the trajectory of our community.  Hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents, both youth and adults, have participated.  Both black and white.  Both civilian and police.   North, South, East and West.

I’m hopeful because through collaboration, we have made measurable progress in 8 of 10 key areas.

Through the collective efforts of hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents:

  • Gun violence was decreased by 74%
  • African-American high school graduation rates increased from 64% to 81%.
  • The percentage of African-Americans with a bachelor’s degree increased from 16% to 22%.
  • African-American unemployment was reduced from nearly 21% to 7.5%.
  • Employment for youth increased from 30 summer jobs to over 1,000.
  • The African-American poverty rate was reduced from 33% to 24%.
  • A new grocery store was built, some neighborhood stores were converted and fresh fruit and vegetables were brought to the community.
  • The Affordable HealthCare Act reduced the percentage of uninsured and did not penalize for pre-existing conditions.
  • Major revitalization efforts were launched, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in public/private investments.
  • A new wave of innovative black entrepreneurs is emerging.

One of the most significant areas of progress is the work we’ve done collectively to build stronger partnerships between police and community and begin addressing justice issues.  Body cameras, diversity training, open communication, police diversity and reductions of use of force have resulted from collaboration.  In Omaha, a city of 460,000, there has been one officer involved shooting in the past eighteen months.  Cities across the nation are looking to replicate the Omaha 360, a nationally recognized model.

To be sure, we never thought the work was done.  We know significant gaps still exist. Yet, we also know that it is possible to move the dial.

In 2014, partly fueled by the flames of Ferguson, we made a proposal to accelerate the progress of African-Americans and North Omaha and identified the level of investment it would require. The plan became known as Transformation 2025 Initiative.  It was based on the input of over 8,000 people, implementation of successful projects and aligned with the findings of the Kerner Report and Freedom Agenda.

We secured some initial investments.  We aligned efforts.  We built effective collaborations.  We pushed for large scale investments with specific goals, strategies, initiatives, programs and policies identified.

The areas where we secured funds we have been able to produce tangible, measurable results.  But when it came to the larger proposals, we were told there are no additional funds.

“Where would we ever find that level of funding?”

Omaha can find the funds when it becomes a priority.   Hundreds of millions of dollars for downtown redevelopment.  $140 million for the TD Ameritrade baseball stadium. Hundreds of millions for a new Buffett Cancer Center.  $200 million just approved by citizens to improve streets and the list goes on.  To be clear, these are all great investments for the City of Omaha.  I stand in full support.  They are all needed and benefit the city and region.  However, these investments prove the point: Omaha and other cities can move the dial and we can find the resources to do what we prioritize.

As described by Obama Foundation officials who visited our community, “Omaha is a get it done city.”

We are now faced with the same decision that the nation and city confronted in 1968.

Invest in people or invest in prisons?   Invest in residents or invest in buildings.  Invest in prevention or invest in penalties.  Invest in proactive solutions or civil unrest.

In 2020, what decision will we make?  This is our turning point.

We know how to put out the fire.  I believe that collectively, with the fires raging and in the midst of a pandemic, we will make the right decision.  In the words of Dr. King, “We will finally make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

As African-Americans, we must unite and do our part.  Support black businesses and businesses in North Omaha.  Vote.  Create generational wealth. Continue reinforcing the importance of education.  Take care of our health.  Work together to address justice and reform.  Engage with the community to address race relations and inequities.  Use all of our gifts and assets.  Partner with allies.

Omaha.  America.  You must do your part.  Listen.  Allow African-Americans and residents from neighborhoods most impacted to lead. Partner and support.  Be an ally.  Implement new policies to reform the justice system.  It is time to invest at the scale of the problem.

Invest in entrepreneurship and access to credit and capital.  Invest in employment, diversity and higher wages.  Invest in safe, affordable housing and mixed income neighborhoods.  Invest in education and high performing school models.  Invest in prevention, intervention, community policing and reentry programs.  Invest to make healthcare accessible and affordable for all.

We can all win.  Let’s design a society and democracy that works for all of its citizens.  The rest of the world is watching.  Will this grand experiment finally and fully become what it can be?  A place where all citizens are spiritually, economically and socially thriving, healthy and prosperous.

In Omaha, the early indications from all sectors is that it will be different this time.  We have the will and the appetite to make this the turning point.  We can put the flames out for good this time.

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Two additional thoughts.  There are other plans that have been developed and numerous individuals and groups who are working diligently on their initiatives, projects, programs and policies.  Our goal is to create a combined plan that we can all work on together and do our part in a collaborative way.

In addition, many individuals, organizations, foundations, businesses and ministries have invested tremendous amounts of time, talent and treasure into various initiatives generating measurable outcomes.  We should pause and recognize these committed partners.  Now, together, we will focus more intensely on wealth, health and ownership.

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Community Features

1,200+ attend Rebuilding the Village Conference featuring Eric Thomas

OMAHA, Neb. – June 11, 2024 – On Friday, June 7, more than 1,200 attendees walked through the doors of  the CHI Health Center Omaha & Hilton Omaha Downtown to listen to captivating speakers during the 17th Annual Rebuilding the Village Conference and Luncheon. Hosted by the Empowerment Network, the event also featured the Revive Omaha Black Business Expo, as well as a powerful and energizing speech delivered by keynote speaker Eric Thomas, Ph.D., a New York Times best-selling author, educator and motivational guru.

“Think Big and Take Action! The Rebuilding the Village Conference was a tremendous success, bringing together local and national leaders, visionaries and community members who are committed to making a tangible difference,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder, Empowerment Network. “We were able to convene over 1,200 participants including 600 youth from our Step-Up Omaha program.  This conference is more than an event; it’s a movement that empowers teamwork to revitalize our communities. Together, we are forging a path towards sustainable growth and collective prosperity.”

Timothy Christian, Board Chair, Empowerment Network and CEO Night Fox Entertainment, Eric Thomas ET and Willie Barney, CEO and Founder, Empowerment Network.  Photo Credit Nehemiah Barney

The Rebuilding the Village Conference and Luncheon brought together community leaders, activists, entrepreneurs and stakeholders to address critical issues facing underserved communities. With a strong focus on professional and community development, this year’s conference was centered around career advancement, DEI, entrepreneurship, leadership development and wealth building. Sessions were designed to enhance collaboration and strengthen the economic impact in Omaha and beyond.

As keynote speaker, Thomas talked about the importance of inclusive leadership strategies, purpose with emphasis on working collectively. “As a leader, you have to stop ambushing, as a leader, you have to stop doing the one-on-one, as the leader, you have to stop being in isolation,” said Thomas. “You’ve got to understand why [purpose] is so significant; it’s so significant because whoever you are, whatever assignment you’re on, you have to fulfill that assignment.  You are better when you move together.”

Supported in part by the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program of The Obama Foundation, the Empowerment Network is dedicated to building safe and thriving communities through economic, educational and social success. Programs like Omaha 360 and Step-Up Omaha exemplify these efforts. My Brother’s Keeper Alliance promotes supportive communities for boys and young men of color, ensuring they feel valued and have clear pathways to opportunity.

With representation from New Orleans, Kansas City, Lansing, Tulsa, Pittsburgh, Memphis, St. Louis and other national cities, attendees came far and wide to network, build community and grow professionally and personally during this year’s conference.

This year’s agenda also included special sessions just for Step-Up youth which aligns with the mission of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.  Breakout sessions focused on driving change, community investment and connecting students with their gifts and strengths.

“There’s always more work ahead, but we have seen a measurable impact through our collective work and collaboration with hundreds of organizations and the engagement of thousands,” said Barney. “Step-Up students are graduating from high school, going to college and entering the workforce.  Graduates of Legacy Wealth are buying homes, launching and scaling businesses, saving and investing.  Alumni of Redefine the Game are receiving promotions, advancing their careers and moving into leadership. We are launching the next round of these cohorts and two others focused on fund development and leadership.”

In the coming months, the Empowerment Network is working with partners to launch the next phase of transformation this summer – pathway to careers, wealth and ownership. Additional growth opportunities including:

  • Connecting 200 more youth per year to the Step-Up youth employment and entrepreneurship programs, to grow to 1,000 students per summer within three years
  • Expanding STEAM programming including drones, robotics, music production, entrepreneurship and culinary.
  • Launching Skill Up! and EmPower Up! for hundreds of North Omaha adult residents to increase wages by providing wrap around and certified educational services
  • Investing in small businesses, entrepreneurship, tourism and job creation
  • Expanding efforts to reduce gun violence by an additional 50%
  • Assisting 250 organizations, small businesses, neighborhoods and churches with capacity-building

As an effort to invest back into Omaha’s Black-owned businesses, the conference featured entrepreneurs during the Black Business Expo, in addition to three breakout sessions specifically for small business owners.

More than 20 panel discussions and interactive workshops led by industry experts and community leaders were also held.

“We greatly appreciate all the attendees, sponsors, speakers, volunteers and all engaged.  We encourage you to support small businesses and stay engaged,” said Barney.

To learn more about the Rebuilding the Village Conference visit https://www.rtvomaha.com/. To stay connected with the Empowerment Network and learn about upcoming events, visit https://empoweromaha.com/. Follow Empowerment Network on Facebook at Facebook.com/EmpowermentNetwork.

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About the Empowerment Network

The Empowerment Network is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing economic, social, and civic progress within Omaha’s African American community, North Omaha and the region. Through collaborative efforts and innovative initiatives, the Empowerment Network strives to create opportunities for empowerment and transformation in every zip code and neighborhood in Omaha and beyond.

 

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Community Features

2024 Revive Omaha Black Business Guide

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Community Features

New cohorts prepare to launch…Leadership, Fund Development, Wealth Building & Career Advancement

OMAHA, Neb.

Great News!  After announcing four cohorts late last year, the Empowerment Network decided to delay the launch of the initiatives as they ran into the holiday season, received formal notice of their award of $10 million through the North and South Omaha Recovery Plan and continued the national collaboration with their partner cities introduced at last year’s African-American Leadership Summit.

The Network is now prepared to move forward with the four capacity-building cohort opportunities with their national strategic partners and advisors Dr. Pamela Jolly, Dr. Randal Pinkett, Dr. Jeffery Robinson, Suzan Hart and Anna Barber.

Keys to Fund Development to Make Your Vision a Reality & Intro to Cohort

Anna Barber, fundraising expert that has helped to raise hundreds of millions of dollars including for the Smithsonian’s National Black History Museum in Washington D.C., will lead a six-month cohort on Fund Development:  building a donor base to make your vision a reality.

Barber will share insights gained through her work with major universities, the Museum, Obama Foundation and other national clients.  Participants will develop a comprehensive step by step plan to build and maintain a strong, diversified donor base.

Complete this form to express interest in the Fund Development Cohort with Anna Barber.

 

Collaborative, Transformation Leadership and Powerful Storytelling & Intro to Cohort

Suzan Hart, one of world’s top storytellers and presenters, will launch a Collaborative Leadership and Storytelling cohort:  Maximize Opportunities with the Power of Your Story.

Participants will learn more about the transformational power of collaboration and enhance their presentation skills by defining purpose, understanding their value, and releasing the power of their story.

Complete this form to express interest in the Transformational Leadership and Storytelling Cohort with Suzan Hart.

 

Advancing Your Career with Key Principles from Redefine the Game & Intro to Cohort

Dr. Jefferey Robinson of BCT Partners will return to Omaha to help launch the 5th Cohort of the Redefine the Game Institute, an innovative career advancement and leadership development program. Over 150 have participated with most receiving promotions and increased compensation, expanded career opportunities or leadership positions within new organizations.

Complete this form to express interest in the Redefine the Game Institute cohort with Dr. Randal Pinkett and Dr. Jeffrey Robinson.

 

Understanding Your Wealth Building Code and Developing Your Plan & Intro to Cohort

Dr. Pamela Jolly a nationally recognized wealth-building strategist returns to launch the third cohort of the Legacy Wealth Initiative.  Graduates of Legacy Wealth have developed wealth plans, saved thousands of dollars, become homeowners, launched and purchased businesses, invested individually and collectively and made contributions to their community.

Complete this form to express interest in the Legacy Wealth Cohort with Dr. Pamela Jolly.

 

Stay connected to the Empowerment Network website for the next steps.   

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